A message given Sunday, March 11, 2007
by Rev. Scott Summerville
A message focusing on the crucial importance of covenants for human survival and for vital relationships.
Isaiah 55:1-9 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant…..
I am going to focus today on a single word from this passage of Scripture.
The word is covenant.
This is a word that most of us probably do not use every day.
But I submit to you that this word, covenant, is one of the most important words in human language.
God speaks to the Hebrew prophet Isaiah and says, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant.”
It is by covenants that we live or die. Scripture says it in a thousand ways: we live by covenants or we perish. There are certain covenants that are sacred and sacramental. We participated in one this morning in which parents and sponsors of a baby committed themselves to the nurture and spiritual care of the child, and we, representing the church of future years where that family will live out its life, committed ourselves to the love and nurture of that child and of those parents.
Every time we draw a breath we are participating in the covenant between God and the earth, between God and humanity as the stewards of God’s earth.
Every time we draw a breath we are taking into our bodies the elements of nature that we are designed to absorb, and every time we draw a breath we are taking into our bodies thousands of other compounds and particles that human beings have produced, which our bodies were not designed to absorb.
The biblical understanding of covenant begins with creation itself, with human creatures sharing creation with all other life, and with human beings given minds with which to maintain that covenant.
The Earth is in a time of covenantal crisis. The two most alarming signs of the crisis are widespread extinctions of animal species and global warming. I will talk about other kinds of covenants that we participate in, ones that involve our relationship with other people, but we live in a time when we must remember constantly the first and primary covenant, that covenant between God and Earth and the human species. If we mess with that covenant, then nothing else will matter for us humans.
If you have not already affiliated yourself with one or more of the many organizations that are focusing attention on the global covenant and working to preserve the Earth as an ecosystem in which the human and other species can thrive, then I urge you to do so. I urge you to support and participate in those efforts as part of your faithfulness to God in obedience to Scripture.
We may not use the word covenant a great deal in everyday conversation, but covenant is God’s most important word in the Bible. The word “covenant” means a commitment made by two parties, a specific commitment to one another. Just as the primary earth covenant between God and humanity touches us in every moment of our lives, the covenants which bind us to other human beings determine the quality of our lives at every moment.
We use the word crisis so commonly these days that it may lose some of its meaning, and perhaps we see too many things in crisis terms, but I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that we are in a time of covenantal crisis in marriage and family life. Imagine that every person who is now or has recently been in a marital or family crisis has a large bandage wrapped around her or his head. Every workplace, every busy sidewalk, and every church would look like a hospital.
The subtleties of the human mind and heart and the subtleties of relationships are so complex that no one can offer a simple solutions to this covenantal crisis. The most important thing that the Church can do is to stress the supreme value of relationships. That may sound obvious– who doesn’t believe in relationships?
But in our day to day living it is not obvious that we honor the supreme value of relationships. Look at what we do with our time, our money, our talents. Look at our thought patterns and fantasies. Do we dedicate our hearts and hands and imaginations to building and strengthening relationships? Or do we pay lip service to relationships, and then go about pursuing a hundred other things?
Relationships that are vibrant and fulfilling are relationships where there are covenants, and by that I mean that people are clear and open about what they want and need and expect from each other.
Two people can have goals and plans, and that is great, but there is something more important than planning where you want to get to. What’s most important is how we will get there with each other. That’s where covenants come in.
You and I may decide then we are going to take a rowboat from New York to Boston; that may be the plan we have agreed to; but I may be assuming you’re doing the rowing; and you may be assuming the same of me, in which case we will not be traveling in a happy little rowboat for long. Goals are great, but covenants are more important. How we will live together, how we will work together – those things matter more than where we think we are going. None of us knows where we are going; life is a journey into the unknown and the unexpected; but we can and we must make covenants for how we will be together in the present time.
Many people are groping around in relationships in the dark with a flashlight. Many young people get caught up in relationships with passion and intensity,
only to experience hurt and heartbreak because there was no covenant; there was just excitement, attraction, and the wild hope that things would work out.
The troubles of relationship that come later in life, troubles even between people who’ve been partners in life for long periods, are not as easy to diagnose or to fix. When we get to a certain age we can no longer say, “We were young and foolish.”
The thing we must come back to and say again and again is that joy is fundamentally joy in relationship, not joy in possessions or joy in accomplishment.
The Scripture asks us today, and we need to ask ourselves everyday: are we seeking the food that truly feeds the soul, are we laboring for that which truly satisfies us? Are we investing our time, our imagination, our material resources, in working through the challenges and problems in our primary relationships? With our mates, with our children, with our parents, with our sisters and brothers in Christ?
Covenants are everything.
Earth is the focus of our primary covenant with God.
Family and church are the focus of our primary covenant with each other.
The old saying is, “Put your money where your mouth is.”
Here we say, “Put your time, put your heart, and put your money where your covenants are.”
” Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant.”
Thus says the Lord.
Shalom, Salaam, Grace and peace be upon you, upon your home and family and friendships, upon this congregation, and upon God’s earth.